So five years ago, which is like a thousand years ago in Internet time, I read the first two books in Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora series. I loved the first one, since it was a high-stakes story of intrigue, conspiracy and murder about a team of con-men lead by Locke and his best friend Jean. The second one left a bitter taste in my mouth because instead of being about the scheming skills of L&J, it was about a pirate captain named Drakasha who, cool though she may be, did not do a lot of piracy. So what does that mean for the third book? I mean, what could be more devious and vicious than criminal murder-plots and piracy? One word: politics.
One of the leaders of the Bonds-magi, Patience, hires Locke and Jean to rig a city election in her favor. She’s not running, none of the magi can, but there’s a schism in the Magi guild between the Left and Right parties, and like anybody with terrifying power and control, wants more. She want her team to win, simple as that. She’s not paying him in money (he won’t get a slice of the party funds for himself. That’s just for the election, so spend, spend, SPEND!), but in a cure for his poison from the previous book. The hard part is that Locke’s old girlfriend, Sabetha, was hired by the opposing Magi to do the same chicanery for their party. Most of the “election” chapters are about Locke juggling his plans as a con artist to his needs to see Sabetha again after all these years, with more emphasis on the latter. Of course, since she’s on the other team anytime he so much as thinks about a date then his boss will take it as a double-cross.
Half of the book takes place during Locke and Jean’s schemes during the election, while the other half takes place years ago as the two grew up with their old crew, and that includes Sabetha. These chapters illustrate how they met as little kids, to their first outing with their mentor, Father Chains, to (and this is lion’s share of the book as well as the place where we get our title) another city where they have to work in a theater run by his old friend Moncraine. This is where the book took a long, slow turn. It reminded me of my bad old days of acting in high school. I would love it if my drama teacher got arrested for punching a sponsor or the principal. I’d root for the principal. Maybe I’m just projecting my bad times on the story, but I can say that I didn’t enjoy getting a tertiary play plot when I’m already trying to keep track the secondary flashback plot and the primary election plot. Add on top of that all the false names that Locke, Jean and Sabetha had to use and you can see my confusion. At least Lynch used their real names for most of the text (if not dialogue) so that helped.
If the book has any drawback it’s being confusing. I just mentioned the three or so plots running almost parallel to each other, but also the smaller flashbacks that only last a chapter, or the magic spell that Patience cast on Locke to cure his poison, or how Sabetha’s biggest trick on the boys was getting them shanghaied on a cargo vessel headed to nowhere. Those are just the sub-plots that I can remember. This was almost a seven-hundred page book. I’m sure I missed a couple dozen. When I first picked up this book I thought Lynch was ending this trilogy, but the cliffhanger ending proved me wrong. That being said, as I worked my way through the very complicated plot and sub-plots I kept thinking this would all lead up to something big and final. A satisfying ending to Lynch’s magnum opus. Big climax. All plot threads closed off. Big applause. Curtain drops. Everyone take a bow. That kind of stuff. And it’s not. There’s just more of the same coming. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but what do you do to top it? Fifty sub-plots at once? How are you, meaning the author or the reader, going to keep up? Again, I’m not trying to demoralize Lynch or his fans. Just scale it back a bit. Someone is going to reply back that there are other popular series that do multiple plots like Game of Thrones, but here’s the thing. With GOT, those multiple parallel plots are ongoing and they tie into each other as the story moves along. Here, with Republic, they’re more like interesting scenes, or very long transitory moments. Yes I liked some of them and I wished they would continue, while in others I was glad to finish that chapter off and get back to main plots, in the past and present. It was all just needlessly complicated. Writing a good book is a challenge. Climbing Mount Everest is a challenge. Both are worth doing and worth doing well, but there’s no need to add any extra challenge on top of that just to show off. It would be like climbing the mountain while doing a handstand the whole time.
Now I will say what saved the book for me, I related to it deeply. Recently I’ve had a very difficult break-up in my life. She’s telling me it’s over for reasons I cannot understand and I still refuse to believe her in the hopes that I, we, can scrap it all back together. I pick up this book about a wayward con-man dragging himself through life when he sees the woman of his life who told him it’s over and…oh my God, Locke you are my drinking buddy right now (that is if he wasn’t fictional and if he was real he’d steal my wallet). The emotional scenes and dialogue are where Lynch really shines, not in the quadruple layered plots or chess-game schemes. This is why I enjoyed this novel and series. This was the secret ingredient in the first book, the saving grace in the second one, and the great pinnacle of Republic of Thieves. I have dog-eared particular pages and I am this close to highlighting some of the lines that Locke and Sabetha share. Just like my life I don’t understand why these two have to break up. Some nitpickers out there may reply by saying “Well that’s your problem then,” but if a reader can’t relate to a character in a book then why read it in the first place?
I can’t give this book the highest grade like I did for the first one, the flashback plot about the play took up too much room as opposed to the dozens of smaller, more intriguing plots that just faded away. The ending confused the hell out of me too. A lot of stuff went boom and I’m still not sure why or how. Still, I can’t degrade it as much as the second one because side-plots or not, Lynch stayed focused on his real stars here instead of fabricating new ones. But that means I have to give The Republic of Thieves the middle grade between the two, and that would make it a…
I recommend it, but keep a notebook handy.
Listening to: Splinter Cell music
Reading: Short story collection